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by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan
based on Scherenschnitt by Paul Portner
Arts Club Theatre Company
Granville Island Stage
June 2 – August 13

(This is Jerry's review of the Arts Club production from June 2005).

It’s Agatha Christie with Surrey jokes. And Paris Hilton jokes and Gurmant Grewal jokes and a good bit of TheatreSports thrown in. It’s full of (usually intentional) groaners. And it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Shear Madness is the longest-running non-musical in American theatre history, currently in its 25th year in Boston, its 17th in Washington. It’s a license-to-print-money franchise that adapts to local conditions, the script continually updated to incorporate local references and hot-off-the-presses current events. It requires quick-witted comic actors and utterly non-threatening audience involvement. And if this production doesn’t prove a huge summer hit for the Arts Club, then my name isn’t Inspector Clouseau.

We’re in the Shear Madness Hair Salon when a murder occurs. The victim is the woman living upstairs, a former concert pianist who’s gone mad, and everyone’s a suspect: flouncing gay proprietor Tony (Marco Soriano) and buxom stylist Barbara De Marco (Dawn Petten), and their clients, businessman Lawrence (Peter Graham-Gaudreau) and Shaughnessy matron Mrs. Shubert (Pam Hyatt).

Each of them has acted suspiciously, a couple may even have motives, and it’s up to the cops, O’Brien (John Murphy) and his partner Mikey (Jeremy Radick), to solve the crime with the audience’s help.

As the suspects re-enact what they did in the moments leading up to the murder, audience members get to intervene—asking questions, challenging and correcting the characters’ version of events. The actors respond with explanations, rationalizations, lies, insults. The guilty party and the play’s ending are determined by audience vote.

A lot of the obviously scripted material is pretty funny, like the many references to the recent foibles of the Vancouver PD, and the malapropisms both O’Brien and De Marco are prone to. He: I knew you were gonna say that—I’m psychotic. She: Tony Whitcomb is a genital liar!

But the real delights are those moments when the actors seem to be writing the play on the fly. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if a gag was rehearsed, like when O’Brien gets angry and starts to throw the phone and De Marco says, “Don’t get all Russell Crowe on me.” The biggest laughs come when an actor’s kibbitzing response to an audience member’s incriminating question is clearly spontaneous. And there were a lot of big laughs on opening night.

As lead investigator O’Brien, essentially the show’s Emcee, Murphy coordinates the onstage comedy and audience interventions with wit, energy and pace. Petten’s bubble-headed, gum-snapping, blue-wigged De Marco is a delightful floozy. And Soriano’s Tony is outrageous and often genuinely funny despite his awfully broad stereotyping, a kind of gay minstrel act that borders on the embarrassing. Sure, the show cites Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Tony himself says, “I was a stereotype in 1995—now I’m retro.” But still.

Ted Roberts’ cartoon-colourful set provides perfect eye candy for this light-as-air summer show that’ll be killin’ ‘em on Granville Island.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:38 PM
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